In a ground-breaking study that used DNA from bear hair to count bears without having to see them or to capture them, U.S.Geological Survey researchers have preliminary results showing that there are an estimated 437 grizzly bears in the northern third portion of the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and an estimated 332 grizzly bears in Glacier National Park itself.
Because of statistical variation, the actual numbers of bears in the northern third of the NCDE may vary from 349 to 590 individual bears, and from 241 to 549 bears in Glacier National Park, said Katherine Kendall, the USGS bear researcher in charge of the study. Kendall's study site encompassed 2 million acres -- the northern third of the NCDE, an area that stretches from the southern Canadian border to just north of Missoula, Montana (see http://www.mesc.usgs.gov/glacier/beardna.htm for study site boundaries).
Although bear numbers for the park are higher than the previous 1970's estimate of 200 grizzly bears in the park, Kendall cautions that because the 1970s estimate was based on bear sightings only, its numbers would not stand up under today's scientific standards for reliability.
"Because of this," said Kendall, "we can't use these new, more reliable numbers to say anything about trends, except that in relation to other grizzly populations in the United States, this population appears fairly healthy, with a high density of bears."
Glacier National Park Superintendent Suzanne Lewis said that the park was "very pleased" with the preliminary reports generated by Kendall's work. "It gives the National Park Service insight into the grizzly bear population in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem of northwestern Montana that we've never had."
Grizzly bears once roamed most of the North American continent, but habitat destruction and direct conflicts with humans have reduced their range by 99 percent in th
Contact: Katherine Kendall
United States Geological Survey